Michille: The Hero’s Journey

JC Hero with a Thousand FacesI am fascinated by Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which is based on Jungian psychology. He outlines the journey in his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces, which is a well-loved, oft-read staple on my writer’s bookshelf. There are three sets of stages in the hero’s journey. This post dissects only the first part and I’m using Nora Roberts’ Key Trilogy for examples of each stage.

Stage 1 is The Call to Adventure. The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown. In fiction, this could be viewed as the inciting incident. In Key of Light (1st in the series), Malory, Dana, and Zoe are invited to The Peak The invitation reads: “The pleasure of your company is desired for cocktails and conversation. Eight P.M., September 4. Warrior’s Peak. You are the Key. The lock awaits.” On Malory’s drive to Warrior’s Peak she sees a white buck, which is a traditional element of a quest. Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the other world. The Daughters of Glass, the myth of this story, is a fictional Celtic myth.

Stage 2 is the the Refusal of the Call. Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. That is not the case with our valiant heroines, Malory, Dana and Zoe.

Stage 3 is the Supernatural Aid. In Campbell words, the supernatural aid is defined: “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man)” [guide and magical helper] “who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.” This can be an artifact, or the case of the Key Trilogy, a clue. Trilogy. Rowena and Pitte are the first supernatural aids. They do not initially give any protective amulet because according to the legend and the rules of their world, the 3 women should be safe. This changes in Chapter 13 of book 1 when Pitte and Rowena find out that Kane entered Malory’s and Flynn’s dream worlds and pulled them behind the “Curtain.” There is an additional supernatural aid in the third book, Key of Valor, when Rowena puts a protective spell on Zoe’s son.

Stage 4 is Crossing the Threshold. This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known. All 3 heroines “leave the known limits of their world” at the start – they all either lose their jobs or get work hours/income severely cut. The threshold is called the “Curtain of Power” or the “Curtain of Dreams.” Malory first crosses the threshold in a dream when Kane (the evil god) gives her the experience of the moment the souls are taken from the Daughters. Dana first crosses the threshold in a lucid dream in which Kane gives her the experience of having her soul taken. Zoe has a glimpse across the threshold through a vision. This is the first time the “good” god from the other side intervened.

Stage 5 is the Belly of the Whale. This represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. Mallory takes her first action when Kane gives her a dream that is the “perfect” life and she pulls herself free of the dream. Dana dives into the ocean to escape Kane, accepting that she needed to take an active role in the quest. Zoe takes her first action on the other side of the “Curtain” when she is visited by Kane. Kane gives her a glimpse of a different, desired life and she runs from his world back to her own.

I’ve seen some other versions of the hero’s journey targeted at fiction writers that don’t have all the stages. However, I’m a purist with it comes to this, so I use them all (or most because some of the stages aren’t required, like refusal of the call). If you also like the Hero’s Journey, my next post will be about the middle part of the journey.

2 thoughts on “Michille: The Hero’s Journey

  1. I’ve met writers who say that they didn’t get published until they followed this structure. It seems like it would be really effective for novelists, although I’m not sure every book needs all the steps, as you say. It’s interesting, too, that Nora Roberts seems to be using this structure for this trilogy, or is using it for a plot device, maybe. She really is multi-talented. Looking forward to the next set of stages, Michille!

  2. Conflict, built right in. Could be a godsend for anyone who struggles with plotting and conflict. A lot of stories do seem to be about rebellion and then breaking through to be able to work with others.

    (-: I have problems with authority telling me what to do, so I resist Campbell, even though I know it’s a great way to plot — and that I don’t do well with plotting, and that I have a lot of freedom with the characterizations and stuff I do like with this method. I’m not sure if I write “full circle” stories, though. That could be a block when using the Campbell Journey. I like to blast straight out to a new place.

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